The energy was palpable on the field and in the stands as pandemic-weary students returned to the Syracuse University stadium on Saturday for the first public game in more than a year. Some 250 student fans—donning masks and practicing social distancing, in accordance with state health and safety protocols—were cleared to attend the event, in which the No. 7 men’s lacrosse team notched a 17-13 victory over the unranked Vermont Catamounts.
Although both teams have previously scrimmaged together, Saturday marked their first official meeting. Syracuse’s attack-and-react offense was led by Stephen Rehfuss’ eight-point performance and Drake Porter’s career-high 21 saves (the most by a Syracuse goalie since 2007), lifting the Orange to its 250th win inside the iconic venue.
Saturday was historic—not just for the fact it marked the first time in 370 days that the “Loud House” hosted student fans. Everybody there also got a firsthand glimpse of the University’s new stadium experience, whose rollout last fall was overshadowed by the coronavirus.
The multiyear, $118 million renovation includes a new crown-truss-supported roof, new sound and lighting systems, and a new four-sided court-hung scoreboard—one of the largest in the nation.
One student, upon entering the building, locked eyes with the scoreboard. “It’s incredible. I can’t believe I’m here,” he murmured in slack-jawed amazement.
For the Orange’s rabid fan base, Saturday was a chance to revel in the spirit of the game. “I’m here for the show,” said one self-avowed “baller” as he filed into the stadium, where a mandatory COVID-19 rapid test—his second in less than 24 hours—awaited him before taking a seat. “It’s been a minute since I’ve seen our guys play.”
He was followed by a trio of students whose excitement seemed undiminished by high winds and bitter cold on their trek to campus. “We’re so happy to be back here, to see our friends again,” exclaimed one rosy-cheeked student. “We know most of the players and want to support them.”
One of her friends summoned the memory of the 580-foot “Walt the Crane,” which became part of the city’s skyline—and an internet sensation—during the stadium’s renovation. “I miss Walt, but I like what he’s done with the place,” she laughed, surveying the new fixed roof. “Parts of it look like glass.”
In the final moments of the game, student fans treated both teams to a hearty standing ovation—a testament to a game well played and perhaps a shared moment of hope, given events of the past year. “I’m really grateful to be here,” one student smiled. “I feel like it’s a step toward normalcy.”
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